RW204 - On the Record and Off the Hook

This week, Dan and John talk about

  • The 2020 Presidential Election (Politics)
  • How the left and the right think of each other (Politics)
  • Taking out a controversial aside from Friendly Fire (Politics)
  • John imagining being able to take conflict again when he is older (Personality)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Listener feedback (Podcasting)
  • How to deal with a child that is a picky eater (Children)

The show title refers to people saluting the flags of a conviction that does not come from education and then go back to their normal lives and hope that having saluted those flags they are on the record and off the hook.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

The 2020 Presidential Election (RW204)

We are living in a weird moment! When recording this episode, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was still unknown and Dan got it out as soon as possible so people can hear it before the results of the election come back. Just like everything else in 2020, of course we don't know anything! We are reminded of the hanging chad scenario where it was one county in Florida, but we have a situation now in six different states where they keep pushing it back (Alaska, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania). What a strange time! You can't keep checking it either because the web pages don't update and there is no movement. Also Pennsylvania has some administrative holiday tomorrow where they are not going to be working.

So many of the foibles of the administrative process are on display, let alone the 10.000 cracks in the system as a whole, and John can't believe this is really the way that their servers are set up. Because of the COVID situation and because people were feeling the urgency to vote we have an incredible number of absentee mail-in ballots. There are also proportionately more people voting in this election than any election in the 20th century and in sheer numbers more people than ever in history, maybe in any election anywhere. To have to have 60 million Americans vote, that is already greater than the population of Great Britain, they are beginning to have as many voters as most of the most populous countries in Europe.

You could say 98% of the votes had been counted in Georgia, but that 2% of votes still represents tens and tens of thousands of people because millions of votes have been counted. You would think that after 98% you surely know the results, but in fact the number of outstanding votes is still much greater in some cases than the spread between the two candidates. It is nuts! When a winner is eventually declared that will still not be the end of it, but there are still going to be lawsuits, and there are still going to be recounts, all of that nonsense.

This election has actually been pretty orderly. There have not been any irregularities, just the slow and steady regular process of counting votes. The Trump administration and that whole hullabaloo over there is what we always knew they would do, which is making hay out of nothing. We haven't seen any instances where election officials anywhere have said they are going to stop the count or that there was any question about the ballots, but all the people doing the election stuff seem to be taking their jobs pretty seriously and are doing it properly.

If it all pans out in the next couple of days, if Nevada announces its results, if Pennsylvania and Georgia does and they are regular and they are within a certain amount of normal deviation, there is no real call for a recount because recounts are triggered when results are within a percentage point or half a percentage point, but it is normal and there is not a question of hanging chads and they are not within 700 votes of each other, there isn't any reason for a recount. It would be very expensive and the person calling for the recount has to pay for it.

Those questions where it is all hanging on 700 ballots or something, that was all happening in December, it was a month later and the results still hadn't come in. Depending on when this episode comes out people may be living in a reality where they know the answers to these questions (they did not), but there isn't actually any disorder in the process. What we are seeing is that MAGA hats are freaking out, but the people that you were worried about, all these federal judges supposedly, the military man and the cops and all these Trumpers who were hiding behind uniforms, that whole crowd, particularly the judges, are saying: ”There is no case to adjudicate!” A judge isn't just going to walk to their office one day and say: ”I declare…!”, but somebody has to file a suit that's legitimate, and there is nothing to file a suit about, there is no fraud to detect.

How the left and the right think of each other (RW204)

We missed our chance at a landslide and that has dismayed everybody. You could feel the energy go out of a lot of people because there was this expectation that we were going to have a repudiating 30, but then it became clear that that wasn't the case and that 50 million people in the country actively were choosing the current administration in spite of everything. 140 million people have voted in this election so far, which is the the entire population of Russia. The population of the US is 330 million people, which means a little less than half the people have voted, which is absolutely unprecedented in John’s life.

It has been really depressing for a lot of people in the world who have lived through the last four years of one insufferable indignity after another, with all the COVID and zero respect for American institutions as we understand them and zero respect for common decency, to watch tens of millions of people vote for him triggered in John’s peers, the people in the cultural world he lives in, a massive feeling of defeat even as we were actually winning the election because it was a hard reminder that our tendency over the last four years to say: ”Somehow he tricked us and got into office, but he has lost support because who could possibly support him? This is going to be a referendum on the whole question and we are going to win both houses and we are going to usher in a new era of leftist lawmaking and reordering, and we are going to eliminate the Electoral College and we are going to redistrict so things are fair, all this ground game stuff, but also big picture stuff, we are going to liberate the workers and eliminate capitalism or whatever it was that people dreamed was possible”

You have the normal kvetchers who still believe that if if the Democratic nominee were a different person that somehow the 65 million people who are voting for an autocrat would see the error of their ways and suddenly be voting for a Jewish socialist, which seems unlikely. But here we are! There is an outpouring of depression and anxiety and a lot of anger from people, even as we were winning, and that is true now. It is a lot of really dull-witted anger. It is very easy to sit on a toadstool and tweet that America is a racist country, that takes zero effort or thought. It is no longer a wise or penetrating insight. It is simplistic and reductionist and not smart and not true.

65 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. John cannot believe that all of them are racist bigots, and whatever is motivating them, he cannot dismiss them with a sweep of the hand that they are all white people or they are all bigots or they are all something. They are not all something! They are as varied a group of people as the 70 million people that voted for Joe Biden and presumably as varied a group of people as the 180 million people that didn't vote, and that is the group of people that John can’t even get his head around, that fully half the country is like: ”Oh, elections don't matter!”, or: ”There is an election?” or whatever it is that keeps half the people from voting.

The huge mistake of using Twitter as your news source and as your place to check in with the world, there is a cacophony of liberal voices, leftist voices who in this depression that this wasn't a resounding victory, that 80% of Americans didn't repudiate Trump and that it could be revealed that all these MAGA hats were hillbillies. No offense to the hillbilly listeners that want to remind them that there are plenty of hillbillies that are smart and gracious.

It is not wise either to say: ”I knew it all along!” It is not wise to say that America is a racist country and not only did 65 million Americans vote for white supremacy, but the 70 million people that voted for Joe Biden are also complicit in it. That is not even cynicism, but a different form to wave your hand and dismiss huge worlds of ideas with one contemptuous spit on the ground. It is the exact same mentality as: ”I didn't even vote!” because those voices are not contributing any plan.

This is real politics, this is the world as it is, we still want to make the world better, do we not? We still have our ideals and we still live in a world with ethics and morals, we still want to accomplish the things we want to accomplish, so if you don't have a plan for it, then take a seat and read a book and study or come up with something positive to contribute. Let's clear the air waves for people who have positive things to say about what our options are, what our opportunities are, and what to do about it. The people who say: ”I can't be hopeful because we are all about to die because of climate change!” Take a seat! We have all read the same newspaper articles and books that you have read, you are not smarter than us!

None of you tweeters are smarter than the rest of the tweeters. Do you have some thoughts or do you feel like shit and want to share it? If you feel like shit and want to share it then shut the fuck up and make room for people who are like: ”Here are our opportunities, here is what we need to do next!” If we have a lame duck situation or if we have the Senate we have had, what do we do about it? The Democrats have been incredibly passive, incredibly weak-willed somehow at a core level because they continue to believe and Liberals continue to believe that we can convince our opponents by using logic.

If this has shown us anything, it is that there are 60 million Americans who are engaged enough to vote, whom you cannot convince with logic. So what is the next plan? What is the strategy? You don't go into this next four years trying to convince people with logic, but you can't go into it utilizing the same tactics of fascism and just shove it down people's throats, so what do we do? Lay it out for me, oh great thinkers, who can with a wave of your hand dismiss all of America as a completely compromised white supremacist project. Go ahead and give me some fucking story, and if you can't take a fucking seat. It is so frustrating that you could stand on the threshold of an opportunity like the one we have right now and have anything to say that isn't positive and hopeful.

We all already know about climate change, about racism, about fascism, we all know. You are not going to learn from all this post-election analysis in the form of righteously indignant tweets about how these are the end times. It is the worst! The election is not even over and when it is over the next two months are going to be a lot of suffering, but John is extremely hopeful! The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a private Zoom call with all of the top brass and said. ”You fucking stay your troops! All of you! Let me remind you as your commanding officer, you stay the fuck out of this! Don't anybody take a step forward!” and that is exactly what you want, the command of the Army to say to one another. This wasn't some press conference. This was a private all-hands meeting. And that has been true in a lot of places and it is a systemic repudiation of Trump.

Trump is over there, saying: ”The elections is a fraud!”, and every single person in power that could confirm that is denying it! It is clearly a partisan and ultimately illegal tactic, and that in and of itself is a return to norms, it is the beginning of a re-establishment of a sense of what is normal in America, a normal adherence to the rules as written. We have an opportunity for the next four years to codify some of those rules that we thought were plain and clear, and make things that we thought were already illegal, but it turns out weren't actually illegal, reduce the power of the executive by half.

During the second Bush administration during the 9/11 years a lot of power collected around the office of the presidency that didn't belong to the office of the presidency and was never intended to belong to the office of the presidency. The president cannot initiate a war, shouldn't be able to, but the Bush administration established a lot of precedent and all the gray area and all the wiggle room and all of the gentlemen's agreements that amazingly governed the conduct of the executive branch, they just decided they were going to push it and they succeeded and we need - as Democrats - to take that power back and reinvigorate Congress and make Congress again a place where it isn't just a schoolyard fight.

John doesn’t know how to do that, especially now that legislators, in particular on one side of the aisle, understand themselves to be beholden only to their own constituents and not to the nation, which is a recent evolution. The premise is that people vote for you and you go to Washington with the power of their voices behind you, but they choose you because you represent yourself as someone who is smart and capable and ready to go into those rooms and on behalf of people, and understanding where they stand, make decisions to accomplish through law the progress of the nation. To go into those rooms and say: ”I either refuse to vote or I will only be obstructionist here because I cannot think past my constituents most base understanding, and if I pander to them, I will get re-elected, and if I don't, if I challenge them to think harder. I will just be defeated, and so rather than do that, I am just going to sit here and retrench in the lowest common denominator.”

John doesn’t know how to wreck that other than this crazy process of un-gerrymandering some of these districts so that the districts themselves are more diverse. John could rant for an hour and a half and he doesn’t know if that is helpful or in service of anything in the context of this show and in standing watch with the listeners.

Dan asks: Regardless of whether you are conservative or liberal, are there a lot of people who are happy with the way that things are right now? Even if you are pro-Trump, are you happy? Are you sitting there thinking: ”Yeah, this is good! Things are really good!” It doesn't seem like people are happy because there is so much trouble, this climate that we have been in, we as Americans are less unified than ever, they are unified in many isolated ways where one group or community or movement is very unified, but then there are 500 other ones that are against it, whatever it is. It feels like everyone is against everyone else in so many different ways.

The conservative half of the United States has grown to believe that the left and the liberal project is motivated by a fascistic desire to have power, first and foremost, and to use that power to undermine American institutions with a goal of taking away the edifice, taking away the foundation of what makes America great, and replacing it with dependency and fear and cowardice and a feminization of men and indoctrination of children. They really believe it and there is ample evidence that they can run up the flagpole to prove it.

The one thing that made the strongest impression on John from the book The Meaning of Hitler was that Hitler did not think that the Jews were subhuman, that was all part of the propaganda campaign, but Hitler believed that the Jews were extremely smart and dangerous. The Nazis characterized the Jews as shtetl moneylenders, but they really thought that the Jews were trying to take control of the world by making the Germans weak. They didn't have an army to do it, they weren't conquerors, but their project was to make the powerful people, the Arians, the Germans, the truly active manly people weak by promoting Jazz music, equality with other races, modern art and architecture, and all these things that were degenerate.

That degeneracy which they saw as undermining the pure German work ethic and the German sense of urgency and power in the people and the ethnic purity of the Germans was at risk from inside because there were these very canny Jews who were members of a global group of Jews who were smart and rich and wanted to profit from the evisceration of these powerful nations through culture and philosophy that belonged to the Jews. Studying philosophy only confused a good German and we shouldn't do it. All these things that we think of as arts and culture were all seen as undermining what should be a healthy population that at the most listened to Wagner.

You see that in what is happening in America today, and the connection to the Jews is a little bit more diffuse, but the idea that certain cultural pursuits are intrinsically degenerate and they make people weaker and more feminine and racially muddled, and what is strong and good is The Old America, but the primary motivation of that set of convictions is not racist, racism is a sidecar to it, but its primary motivation is simplicity. The simplest explanation is probably correct!

What you want to do is walk out the door in the morning and feel like things are consistent and stable and knowable and beyond that you don't want to look too deeply into things because it only confuses things and as long as things are knowable and stable, what more could you ask for? You get three squares, you go to work, you come home, and when your kid comes to you and says: ”I want to get a piercing!” or your kid comes to you and says: ”I want to be a dentist!” you can say: ”No, that is not what we do!” and you can feel like you are in control of your kids and your family and you can feel like the world is manageable.

On the other side here we are and we have now characterized the conservatives as people who are ugly, bigoted, fearful and trying to accomplish their goals by consolidation of power in a fascistic way. We have characterized one another in exactly the same terms, but the left sees the right as uneducated, as working against their own interests, as desire to put us all in camps and make being gay illegal and make miscegenation illegal, return to a place where the races have to be distinct and we are going to send people back home to their own nations.

We have characterized that 60 million people in terms of where we are saying they are basically Romanian coal miners. What we fail to appreciate is that there are obviously a lot of very smart, capable people on the right, they are really no different than your family members and in many cases they are your family members, but what we don't give them is that they have a cohesive and coherent worldview that is based not in a desire to punish us, but based on a desire to protect themselves and to honor and celebrate the things that they think are good and right.

Actually, the liberal view is confusing and challenging and destabilizing because the liberals want to keep pushing the envelope. We want to keep including more people, not excluding, and in including more people and more viewpoints it does get confusing. It is a constant steady flow of internal contradictions to be liberal because you are trying to make a coalition out of people and some of them believe the earth was created in seven days and some of them don't, but they largely agree that in general transgender bathrooms in elementary schools are a bridge too far, a unifying sense that the left is a bridge too far.

But on the left we have people in our coalition who believe there is no bridge too far, that we should pursue the most radical cultural and economic possibilities we can conceive of, and then you have all the people between that and whatever abhorrent center Democrat it is that the leftists feel is the real problem in the world who wants those general premises of: ”One day you should try and be a homeowner!” and: ”Send your kids to college!” and: ”A rising tide lifts all boats!”

They are liberals and they are not opposed to free college and they want people to read books and be learned and they imagine that if you read The New York Times you will know what there is to know. They don't want to close the world down, they want to open it up, they are just more cautious. That coalition is extremely ungainly and within it there are so many internal battles, it is why John always said that a liberal hates nothing more than a liberal that is one degree of separation from them on either side. It is an incredibly self-sabotaging group of people.

In a parliamentary world America would have 50 different parties. You could have radical Greens on one side and Crypto Fascists on the other and in the center the Christian Democrats and the Democratic Christians. It would provide a place for people to silo and say: ”Okay, how many members of the Green Party do we have to have in this parliament in order to get legislation passed?” and the Greens would understand where they fit into things. Right now we are trying to put all those people into the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is like IBM in the 1960s. How is this being administered? There are people all over the world and it is just clip-on ties that unite us. No!

In general, those two sides that division and that sense that right across the aisle the people that are your next door neighbors are fascists who want to take away what is best and replace it with what is worst is so comical. Although right now it feels like an impenetrable barrier it is ludicrous, it is ridiculous on the face of it! Your next door neighbor who shares every single thing with you, including a fence, but who voted for the other candidate, is not a fascist any more than you are! He doesn't want to come across that fence and shove anything down your throat.

Bridging it isn’t as hard as it seems. It can't be! Building that wall didn't take very much time. It started before Trump, but it took 20 years, and it is based on a fabric of lies, a fabric of lies that is very internally consistent, it is lies about climate, lies about economy, lies about morality, but it is lies or gross exaggerations. Culturally, what are some things that unify us? It used to be a love of Michael Jackson or the space shuttle. Presumably everybody in America has heard the Eagles Greatest Hits. Not everybody in America loves the Eagles, but everybody in America does love Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. John has never met a person that didn't like it. You would have to be a pretty unusual person to not like Back in Black (by AC/DC), but we can all agree that Billie Jean (by Michael Jackson)was made in a time that everybody, whatever your stripe, when that bass-line comes in, whose heart turns to stone?

We might have had different opinions, but we were on the same page or in the same book at least, and it doesn't feel like that now, does it? Partly because there has been a real retrenchment on either side and all John has is the power to speak generally to liberals. There are plenty of conservative people who follow some or another version of John’s programming and a lot of times he hears from people who say: ”I am conservative and I like hearing your point of view and I get a lot out of the other stuff that you talk about. It is easy for me to disagree with you politically or about certain things and still believe that you are a person of good faith!”

That is the key: To believe that: ”You believe what you are saying and you have a foundation that supports it, and although I disagree with you, the fact that I believe you are a person of good faith does not prohibit me from listening to the other things you say and agreeing with you!” That used to be true a lot. John read ever George Will column for 20 years. He can't say that he enjoyed William F. Buckley, but he enjoyed hating William F. Buckley. He consumed William F. Buckley and he felt a lot of schadenfreude every time William F. Buckley got his ass handed to him by somebody, but he didn't feel like William F. Buckley was trying to undermine the republic, and he certainly didn't think George Will was.

John is speaking to an audience that is liberal on the whole and all he can do is address our prejudice and when he talks about it, a lot of people get their hackles really up because they feel like there is so much on the right that is abhorrent that to address prejudice or contradiction within the left is divisive, but it is not divisive to address it and to say: ”Now, wait a minute! This internal contradiction cannot be resolved, but it doesn't have to be. It just has to be acknowledged!” You cannot say that this and that are part of a unified liberal platform because they don't jibe, so we have to say: ”This is part of a platform, this is part of a different platform, they are part of a liberal coalition, but this difficulty has to be resolved and it has to be confronted!” You have to be able to argue your side while acknowledging the validity of the other side within liberalism, within leftism.

If you are a coalition you have to step out of that room and say: ”We disagree about this, but we have come to a compromise and here it is!” The people on the wing of the left that refuse to compromise, you have to acknowledge they are there and they do change the tenor of the conversation, but you cannot possibly include them beyond a certain point in the actual negotiations because they refuse to compromise. They torpedo negotiations because things are accomplished via negotiation. It is the only way!

If you dismantled the entire American system, if you reduce the world to anarchy, the first five people that got together to decide what to do with this barrel of gasoline would have to negotiate. It is a first principle and if you exclude yourself from the possibility of negotiating, if you think you are so fucking right that you cannot bend, then you have to be excluded, ultimately. We can hear your voice, you are standing there on the outside of the fence screaming and we have to take it into consideration, but you can't be part of a decision because you refuse.

But to point out things within the left and to say: ”Look, if we persist in believing that one entire half of the country can be reduced to its most base description that they are all klan members, you are excluding the possibility of ever coming to an agreement with them and that has to be impossible from a liberal perspective! You cannot be liberal and also believe you cannot ever come to a rapprochement with your adversaries because liberalism is predicated on the idea that we teach and learn and grow. If you don't believe we can teach and if you don't believe we can learn, then we can't grow and therefore you are not a liberal.

You can be a leftist revolutionary and believe those things. But you are ultimately saying you will not compromise and in order to accomplish your goals you will impose them on people who cannot be made to understand and through that imposition you can only accomplish it via an authoritarian state. You cannot impose views unless you are prepared to back up that imposition with police or some kind of enforcement or some culture of punishment for deviating from a theory that isn't widely embraced or isn't embraced by a supermajority.

That is not liberal! That is not 98% of the left, but it is so hard to say that we are culpable because we have stopped trying to teach, we have stopped trying to learn, we are accepting mainstream voices who believe they already know everything, mainstream voices that are demagogues. Watching the left mainstream demagoguery has been one of the more depressing things because as soon as we are in lock step we are betraying our fundamental principles, first among them is that we are learning and growing. We are the side that learns and grows and it is our obligation to bring our fearful friends forward.

That is the contribution that John can make to the people that listen to him. He cannot and refuses to sit here in his bully pulpit and just rail at our enemies as though they are cartoons. Our enemies can't hear and if they could they wouldn't be swayed and all would be doing is massaging the genitals of people who are on his side of the political aisle, but are too afraid to engage and want things to be simple and want there to be consistent explanations for things and to walk out the front door of their house and have everything be knowable.

That is not who we are and it is not our role in the world! You cannot be a liberal and walk out the door and have everything be knowable, even if what you think is knowable is that we are a racist country founded in rape culture and misogyny. If that is what gives you comfort, you are just as bad as as thinking when you walk out the door every day that we are a country in the sway of a Jewish conspiracy, it is just as illogical and just as untrue. It fulfills the same role, which is to stoke your fear, give you a sense of righteousness, and at the same time make the world seem knowable and consistent and driven by forces that you can be at war with.

That is not liberal, and to have it be mainstreamed in Twitter and in our Twitter culture and in whatever the realm of think pieces and online posts and the rabble of people with bachelor's degrees who are somehow now our lodestars. To have this bully pulpit, to say these things, John doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to wade into a room of people who aren't friends. He can say this to our listeners because they have opted in, they are here and they are here voluntarily and they know that they can leave at any time and a lot of them disagree, but they are smart and can hold two ideas in their mind simultaneously.

John’s whole life he was raised and bred to believe that his job was to wade into the public sphere with this, to be like Bono at Red Rocks, waving a giant red flag and singing his song and galvanizing and teaching those who do not want to be taught. John just doesn't have the fortitude to do it because he doesn’t want to wake up every day with his stomach in knots, sleeping with his shield over his head with one hand on the hilt of his sword, he doesn't want to live that way! He is afraid that it makes him timid or less valuable than he could be the vanguard.

Especially now it is very difficult to be in a vanguard of moderates, or a vanguard of people who are counseling self reflection rather than pointing their sword across the barricade and saying: ”Rally to me!” John doesn’t know any more if there is a place for public intellectuals who are leftists, but flinch at reductionism. Other than podcasting? John could be writing essays, but he is talking to friends here and he is hoping that some our friends listening are young and energetic and in a world where they are taking action and that this council will help them.

John can't reconcile that feeling that talking to 20.000 friends is enough to fulfill his destiny as a pundit or a guide or a minister or whatever he was put here to do. God, if they had 100.000 listeners, he is not sure he would want the grief and he might be closer to Merlin just says: ”I don't want those emails, so I don't say those things!” John feels it every day: He composes ten tweets a day that he doesn’t send out because he doesn’t want the grief.

Taking out a controversial aside from Friendly Fire (RW204)

John was talking to Adam and Ben today. The episode of Friendly Fire that comes out tomorrow is about the movie Exodus (see FF148) and in the course of reviewing the movie Exodus John went on a little thoughtful essay on an aspect of Israel, an aspect of the Israeli experiment in Palestine, and those two guys, to their everlasting credit, because after John was done with the episode he was like: ”I am going to get letters! I went too far!” not too far in his thinking, but too far in his speaking for the world as it is. John is super-bad at bowing and scraping, he does not like to preface anything with an apology, he doesn’t like to characterize things with a giant set of parentheses that say: ”I acknowledge my privilege and so I am basically taking away my conviction here!”, but when he says things then it feels emphatic and it often is.

Those guys wrote John this morning and said: ”We should talk about this, we should talk about this sidebar within the show because although it is in the context of our show, absolutely in keeping with our thinking, the conversation around it is really great, but do we and specifically you, John, want to put this into the world? It is going to spark a 1000 comment thread on Reddit and like your Punk Rock article of 10 years ago, do you actually go on record with with something, even if you mean it lightheartedly or as a conversation starter? Do you want to be the focus of it?”

For those two guys to have that much care and consideration and intelligence to recognize that they care enough about John that they would offer to take it out, to edit around it, to excise it in order to protect him, even though leaving it in would direct more attention to their show. They could step back and raise their hands and go: ”I don't know, that's what he said!”, but they care enough about him to make that call, to not edit him in the moment, to listen, but to think about it over the course of several weeks since they recorded it and to say today: ”Hey, this is coming out tomorrow. What do you say?” and John realized he had been thinking about this since the day they recorded it and he had been worried about this moment and they are absolutely right.

The conversation about that movie is interesting and fun without that commentary, and John would rather not wake up on Saturday morning to a 1000 comment thread on Reddit, and so: ”Take it out!” is what he said and to the part of John that is still 25 that feels like cowardice or that he is dishonest, but to the part of him that is 52 it feels like self-preservation. John thinks sometimes that when he is 70, will he have a new opportunity to really be candid with the world because at that age he will be insulated from virulent attack because a lot of people can dismiss him as an old man? Will he feel free again to speak? Having watched his political beliefs evolve, when he is 70 years old, will he have become entrenched? Will he share the values he has today?

John imagining being able to take conflict again when he is older (RW204)

John does look forward to a time when he is liberated from the restraints and constraints of this middle-period of his life where he no longer wants to be at war with the world, and he has never been someone who is confident enough in his beliefs to fight for them as though they were scripture because everything he thinks he understands he also has tried to understand its opposite and has tried to be able to speak eloquently about the opposition to what he has concluded is the truer idea. John cannot stand up there and wave that red flag, he has never been able to, because he is not a soldier and never was. He is something else, he plays a different role.

He is not a diplomat either, but that creeping feeling of cowardice, that he can only say so much, that he can only be prompted, that he can only engage with arguments to a degree before he closes it down, it cedes that public space to the louder and more strident voice that steps into the void where he stepped back. Dan argues that is what the Millennials call self care and you have to do that for your own sanity and peace of mind.

John was raised with the idea that at a certain point you have to sacrifice yourself to what you know to be good, and to actually sacrifice yourself is noble and to stand at that juncture and fail to sacrifice yourself is to be cowardly or worse, to betray the truth as you know it. In none of these instances does wading into a Twitter dispute feel like the moment. It never quite feels like this is where John should put himself in harm's way. If he were younger and felt that climate change and racism were so ascendant that every day is the day, every moment is the last opportunity.

But also: His voice would probably be as irrelevant as it was when he was 25, and when he was 25 his voice was irrelevant! He didn't have a platform, no-one had any reason to take him seriously, he was just another wound-up 24 year old that hadn't thought about it enough. John sure sees a lot of his peers not thinking about it enough and advocating for viewpoints that are lazy and are being promoted and promulgated by loud voices who have the actual conviction, and the conviction appears in the world like studied confidence.

Conviction looks often like the product of study, and it often isn't. Conviction is the product of having explored an idea to the point where you found a solution to it and not pursuing it any further and that often is right on the surface. You look at a problem, you see the solution, you exclude all contradictory evidence, build a wall around that solution, print it on a flag, and go out. And that is not an educated position, it is a militant one or an ignorant one, but it comports with our desire to have things be knowable and reliable!

Watching his intelligent friends salute those flags and salute them in the same way that his cowardice retracts him from the conversation… They salute them and then turn around and close the door and go back to their normal lives and hope that having saluted those flags they are on the record and off the hook. John doesn’t admire it because it gives a false sense that those ideas are widely shared, when really what they are as widely unreflected upon and parroted because they are knowable.


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